A Year on: The War in Ukraine

When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, Putin and his regime thought it was going to be a quick war. Tens of thousands of deaths later with much of the battlefield reminiscing the trenches of the First World war, the killing continues.

As the journalist Patrick Cockburn pointed out in an article “Conflict between Russia and US is getting much closer”, news reporting of the Ukraine war has degenerated into mere war propaganda:

…the essence of which is not so much lying about what is happening, but a selective approach to the news whereby anything beneficial to our side is reported and anything harmful is marginalised or ignored
(“I” 25 November 2023).

Cockburn’s worry is that the biased reporting in the media obscures “a growing confrontation between a confident America and a weakened Russia”.

Socialists take no sides in capitalism’s wars. History does teach us the unintended consequences of war and its destructive capacity. The invasion of Poland by Hitler in 1939 ended with nuclear explosions at Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan. Fifty-five million people died in that conflict. Although war did not end. It continued each decade through the Cold War and wars of “national liberation”. War and capitalism go together.

The war between Russia and Ukraine and Cockburn’s remarks about a “confident America” and a “weakened Russia” reminds us that the climate crisis is not the only threat to the world and its population. Nuclear war is too, and that threat needs to be removed as well. The only way to do this is to end capitalism and replace the profit system with a borderless, stateless world community based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources. In short, world socialism.

In launching an invasion of Ukraine, Russia is no different than any other imperialist power grabbing for itself territory it needs. As far as Putin is concerned “Right is Might” , even though the war has not gone to plan. As long ago as 1950, the Socialist Party of Great Britain highlighted the reason for war under capitalism, a reason applicable to Putin’s Russia:

…wars in the modern world are due neither to the avoidable mistakes of individual Ministers nor to their deliberate war-making policies. The contest by force of arms is an extension and consequence of an underlying contest going on at all times in other fields. Wars reflect the determination of Governments to defend or gain valuable possessions by armed might when other means have failed. The purpose of war is to gain or to maintain the mastery of territories where there are rich mineral deposits, vital land, sea or air routes or areas where goods can be sold or capital invested”.

And we went on to say:

These are the objects of modern war. The method is to annihilate or disperse the armed forces of the “enemy” Government; destroy its armaments and means of supply; starve, terrify and undermine its civilian population by blockade and bombing, and by propaganda to spread panic and defeatism”.
(The Socialist Party and War 1950 p. 8)

Socialists are not concerned with the rights or wrongs of the war, who is to blame and who is innocent. Nor are we interested in “international law” or the sovereignty of nation states and the “right of self-determination”. What we are concerned with is that it is members of the working class who are forced to enlist in national armies in order to kill, or be killed, by fellow members of the working class wherever they might be. It is the working class who pay the price for capitalism’s wars and the geo-political interests being played out.

Socialists condemn governments who are prepared to see workers killed in Ukraine in order to advance the interest of Western capitalism against Russian capitalism. We have nothing but contempt for the warmongers.

The attitude of the Socialist Party of Great Britain to the question of war under capitalism differs from that of other political parties in this country. Unlike the Labour Party we are highly critical of NATO both before the war in Ukraine and after it. We do note that it was a Labour Government who helped form NATO, but the Labour Party has a history of actively supporting and prosecuting capitalism’s war. It is a capitalist party, and we would expect no less from this anti-working-class organisation.

Socialists have always held that war is inevitable under capitalism, and that its abolition can only be accomplished by the establishment of socialism. This puts socialists at odd with the capitalist left. There are those like Stop the War Coalition who believe peace can take place in capitalism. Stop the War call for “peace talks now” rather than persuading workers to become socialists; the first step in the political process of ending war. They are joined by social pacifists and moralists against the war who also erroneously believe you can have capitalism without war. You cannot take war and conflict out of capitalism. You cannot have peace in a world made up of competing nation states, armed to the teeth and prepared for war.

Worse still are those Putin’s apologists who want to see US Imperialism and NATO humiliated by Russia winning the war. They claim to be acting in the interest of the working class. However, the working class has no interest in the war. Workers should not be taking sides. The class interest of workers in Russia and Ukraine as they are elsewhere in the world are the same. The fundamental interest is for the working class to unite and replace the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.